A proposal aimed at making it easier to get healthy food in cities and rural areas is advancing in the legislature, despite questions about how effective it would be. Omaha Senator Brenda Council says when she first started thinking about her bill, she assumed it would apply mostly to cities. But she soon found out that lack of access to fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats and other healthy food was an even bigger problem in rural areas. Council says in both urban and rural areas, often the only food that’s available is from places like convenience stores. Council says The Healthy Food Financing Initiative would, “provide financial assistance for ‘food desert’ intervention programs, such as the establishment and expansion of farmers markets, community gardening projects, food cooperatives, and mobile markets and delivery systems. The Healthy Food Financing Initiative Act is also designed to provide incentives for the construction of new retail grocery outlets and the renovation or expansion of existing facilities.” The proposal would make competitive grants available if the public money was needed to make projects happen. It would use $150,000 dollars from an existing community development program. But some lawmakers questioned if such projects were needed, or would work. Senator Paul Schumacher of Columbus suggested that the proposal would not succeed in reversing powerful demographic and economic trends, at least in rural areas. “There used to be grocery stores and blacksmith shops and barber shops in the town of Cornlea and Tarnov and every little town out there,” Schumacher said. “The market no longer sustains them because the population isn’t there, because agriculture has become too darned efficient.” Schumacher added, “If the markets wont sustain these, if the cash cannot be gained through normal capital markets, then what are we doing with this type of make-believe legislation, that we’re going to make big changes with a tiny amount of money?” Council described her bill as a small step, but one that heads in the right direction. Senators voted 34-9 to give it first-round approval.

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